It’s usually a big piece of news when individuals are given prestigious awards for championing a good cause.
Recognition of people’s contributions in many fields are widely reported by the media to serve as inspiration to others. The coverage includes not only achievements, per se, but the struggles and challenges overcome as well as the impact created by such contributions.
This week we find, however, that the taking away of an award could send a louder message.
International rights group Amnesty International stripped Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of the Ambassador of Conscience Award it had given her in 2009. She used to be known as a democracy icon who resisted the military junta and who was place in house arrest for 15 years.
Now the award was rescinded because of her perceived indifference to her government’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
This is not the first strong statement against Suu Kyi, to be sure. Last month, the government of Canada revoked her honorary citizenship. In March, the US Holocaust Museum also took back an award named after concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel.
In a stinging letter, the rights group told Suu Kyi: “We are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defense of human rights.”
But while this is a sentiment shared by many countries and organizations around the world that have observed Suu Kyi’s rise to prominence many years ago, her own government and people stand solid behind her.
“We don’t need their prize,” a resident told Agence France Presse. Another said the withdrawal was “pretty childish.”
Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, claimed Amnesty International’s action is part of a wider conspiracy to discredit the hugely popular leader and treat her unfairly. The party won in the elections of 2015; the victory ended decades of military rule.
The Rohingya have faced persecution from the Myanmar government; hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring Bangladesh after reporting killings and gang rapes. The government calls them terrorists.
Suu Kyi’s situation shows that there are no longer purely domestic issues. Everything governments do—or do not do—is fair play to the broader international community even as outsiders may not be able to fully appreciate the justifications and nuances of domestic decisions.
In the grand scheme of things, international awards as well as condemnations come and go. What remains is the fundamental issue of good and evil, perpetrated on individuals and groups.And don’t we know all too well that adage onwhat it takes for evil to prosper.